This story is by R. Mark Jones and was part of our 2018 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The foul odor of the predators hit Olga in the nose like a damp, sweaty sock. The scent was ingrained from several hunting trips since her tenth birthday. The wolves were closing in on her. She could sense them before the scanner confirmed there were six beasts stalking her. They were spread out in an arc nearly encircling her position. There was no hope of outrunning the pack and it was unlikely she could slip away. She aimed at the closest wolf as it bolted toward her.
Her shot struck the target and the animal tumbled to a halt. Two of its companions recognized the danger and slunk away in retreat.
Another wolf charged toward Olga, closing the distance in long, graceful strides. She leveled the rifle at the charging beast and fired. The wolf’s gait became erratic before it tottered and fell. Two more wolves rushed towards her, one on the left and one on the right. Olga swept the rifle to the left and shot, hitting the monster in the right shoulder. The animal stumbled, crying in pain, and curled up in a ball. The wolf on the right was just seconds away when she turned around. Olga crouched and fired again. The tranquilizer dart hit its mark squarely in the chest, knocking the wind out of the creature. He skidded on the ground and laid motionless near Olga’s feet.
Tears welled up in Olga’s eyes. She kneeled down and stroked the head of the wolf. Just two years ago she was sneaking into the woods with her friends, killing wolves just like the men she was tracking. She believed the lies villagers told about the dangers these animals posed. Olga struggled to suppress images from the last time she had gone on a hunt using live ammo to take down a wolf. Feelings of guilt clawed at her.
Like many of her friends, Olga was seduced by the power of the hunt. She took nine pelts as trophies that year. It wasn’t long, though, before she understood people valued the illusion of control over nature more than they valued nature itself. It hit home when her father showed her how the predator hunts had been far too successful.
Olga pulled herself together and punched the commlink on her scanner. “Arlette, I’ve got four wolves down. Two ran off. Mark my location, I’m tracking a hunting party nearby.”
“I’ve got your site logged. A team from Le Havre is on the way to pick up the wolves and deal with the hunters. They’re about three minutes out. Fill them in when they land.”
Olga ran a quick medical scan of the wolf at her feet. Vital signs were good. The animal was sedated. She tagged the predator and checked her tactical scanner again. Four blue dots marked the other animals she shot. Three bright orange dots were approaching the most distant of the knocked out wolves.
“The hunters are here! Got to engage them before they kill any more.” Olga sprinted for cover closer to the hunters.
Arlette pleaded, “Wait for the rangers!”
But Olga was already in motion. The jerks standing over the sleeping wolf seemed unaware of her presence at the moment but they would know someone was stalking them as soon as they spotted the dart. She dropped down, laying prone behind some light brush. Through the scope, she could see the men were wary. Olga slowed her breathing while she aimed at the closest guy. She squeezed the trigger and watched the thug crumple to his knees as the drug took effect. The other two dropped down, cursing and looking frantically for the sniper that shot their buddy. She could see them reaching for their own scanners.
Olga knew she had just a few seconds before they had her. Two grown men against a sixth grader. Hardly seemed fair. “Poachers are cowards,” Olga screamed. The poachers answered her with a hail of bullets as the troop transport Arlette promised silently passed overhead.
Olga winced in pain and let out a grunted expletive. She was lucky. The bullet passed through her left forearm without breaking a bone. She rolled behind a log a few feet to her left and used some paracord to control the blood flow. The pain was bearable but distracting.
She gritted her teeth and tried to line up a shot from behind the log. Before she could find a target she heard another volley of shots, fired in a different direction and apparently not intended for her.
The rangers demanded surrender and the hunters answered with more gun fire. After a few more exchanges, the criminals surrendered. Five rangers collected the hunters. A few others tended to the sleeping wolves. Two rangers sprinted in her direction.
As they approached, Olga stood, thankful she could keep a few more wolves safe from human hunters. Earth had seen too many species go extinct because they were viewed as a nuisance. Eliminated because they had a negative impact on convenience or comfort. Such hubris had no place here. Olga would not tolerate similar mistakes on this world. Her generation had to make sure this planet did not suffer Earth’s fate.
One of the men in uniform invaded her personal space, towering over Olga. “OK, girl, spill it. Hand over the rifle and tell us what you’ve been up to. You know better than to try saving the planet on your own. You almost got yourself killed.” He signaled the other ranger to tend to Olga’s wound.
“I know, dad,” Olga sighed as she handed the rifle to her father with her good arm and began briefing him on the day’s activities.